Thursday, August 07, 2014

When I Forget I Exist

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I recently acquired a Canon 5D MkII after my longtime partner in crime photography, my Canon 5D classic, had a major malfunction. (The mirror fell off in the middle of a shoot.) So far, I really like my 5D2. There are more than few differences (i.e., upgrades) between the 5D2 and 5D1 and one notable difference/upgrade is Live View shooting. Instead of singularly having a traditional viewfinder to frame my shots with, I can select Live View and use the rear LCD screen to accomplish the same. Cool, no? Well, sort of. Yes and no, actually.

I was looking forward to giving Live View a shot. (Pun intended.) So, the first time I went out with my 5D2 to shoot, that's exactly what I did.

It didn't go well.

My Live View experience only lasted a mere few frames or so before I switched back to viewfinder shooting.  No, there were no technical difficulties using Live View. It worked as advertised and just as it was supposed to work. And even though I was shooting in daylight, albeit shaded daylight, the 5D2's rear screen is bright and clear (much brighter and clearer than the 5D1) and I was able to see what my camera was pointed at quite easily.  The problem was me. It simply wasn't working for me. And it wasn't because I'm strictly an old school shooter or an old dog (which I am) who can't be taught new tricks. I've added plenty of new tricks to my shooting bag of tricks over recent years and, each time I did, I made the transition and learned those new tricks quite easily, having little trouble working them into my production workflows and shooting style.

I recognize there are times when having Live View capability will be a plus. Shooting landscape photography comes immediately to mind. As does macro photography and product photography. Also, when using the 5D2 to record video, another added capability of the 5D2, Live View will likely be a big help. (Assuming I ever use it as a video camera.) I've recorded thousands of hours of video, by the way, with various video cameras, including my Sony Z1U HD camcorder, and can easily switch back and forth between the viewfinder and its swing-out LCD screen. In fact, I've probably shot more, much more, with the LCD screen employed than with the viewfinder pressed to my eye. But that's video and this is still photography I'm writing about.

Here's why I will not be shooting with Live View except on sporadic occasions when it makes sense for a variety of possible reasons, none of them I'm going to go into right now. It's got to do with something   photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once said, something that resonated with me: “When I have sex with someone I forget who I am. For a minute I even forget I’m human. It’s the same thing when I’m behind a camera. I forget I exist.”

And so do I.

Let me explain.

I find it so much easier to forget I exist -- not that it's something I need to purposely do when I have a single open eye pressed to the viewfinder and the other eye closed -- because it happens rather automatically. You see, when I'm shooting with only the viewfinder, it's almost like nothing else exists but what I see in my viewfinder because that's all I see. (That's how it becomes as if I forget I exist.)  With viewfinder shooting, I easily immerse myself in a world that's only in my viewfinder. A world where little else matters, including myself.  A world contained, constrained, and restrained to only what I see in my viewfinder.

Not so with Live View.

When using Live View, on the other hand, with both eyes open, all the world around me continues to exist in my peripheral vision, and to exist with all it's many distractions.  You see, when you're completely focused on what's in your viewfinder, when it seems like you nearly cease to exist outside of your viewfinder's view of the world, you're better able to see, to notice, to be keenly aware of everything in that limited field of view. Suddenly, your entire world is your shot. It's a scaled-down world -- scaled-down to a small, manageable, and confined perspective -- and it makes snapping great photos so much more likely. In that world, a world revealed only in your viewfinder, all the details of your shot are more clearly revealed. They leap out at you! And you know what they say about details.

Ideally, as photographers, when we venture into the two-dimensional, scaled-down, finite world of our viewfinders, little else outside of that world matters much, including ourselves, at least for those brief moments in time. Focus isn't simply about what our lenses are doing. Focus, being focused, is what we're doing. Being focused with our eyes, our minds, our creative senses, nearly all our total awareness, is the place we all should be whenever we're shooting.  And using Live View, in my opinion, makes being in that place much more difficult.

I don't recall the name of the pretty girl at the top. It was snapped in a rather small condominium right up the street from the Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank, CA.  More companies than Warner Brothers resides at the studio these days but, originally, Warner Brothers built it. I canted my camera to take advantage of the diagonal lines of the bright colored chair to subtly help direct viewers' eyes to the model, not that I think many viewers, especially of the male variety, will need much help for their eyes to be drawn to her.


Unknown said...

I had the same experience Jimmy. There are uses for it but its not for me. It drops my user experience from a photographer to a tourist, and its not comfortable. I'm sure some people will like it but its not for me.

Bill Giles said...

It strikes me that using live view might be similar to using a view camera. It might help to use a dark cloth to keep the world out.